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"Master One Of The Most Important Fundamentals Of Your Fighting Skills - Your Feet!"

From: Jason Stanley, 3rd Dan Shitoryu

Many new students have difficulty using their feet. I'm not referring to kicking in this article, I'm talking about footwork, positioning and dynamic movement. This is one thing that is difficult to master. Until you have it "under your belt" so to speak, you don't use your feet in the correct way and will be left frustrated and disheartened.

Footwork is one of the foundations of karate. It doesn't matter if it's in self defense, kihon, kata or kumite - footwork is required in all four aspects of your training. If you're willing to learn and want to improve then I'm about to show you exactly how easy it is to move once you understand and know how to apply these concepts.

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This might be basic revision for some of us, but for most it is the realization of an important concept.

First let's consider why footwork is important...

  1. Good footwork gets you into striking range where you can hit.
  2. Good footwork gets you out of striking range where you'll avoid being hit, or worse yet, killed.

It's important to have good footwork to take you from point A to point B so you maximize your opportunities...

  • quickly
  • smoothly
  • precisely

Good footwork also gets you back from point B to point A, or from point B to point C, where point C is a different position to that in which you started.

Key Point
It doesn't matter if it's competition or in the street, the same footwork principles apply. It's just the techniques that differ.

Before you can move effectively, you must be on the balls of your feet as this is the part of your foot that is responsible for your balance and dynamic movement. Don't believe me? Stand in your forward stance and put all your weight on your heels by lifting your toes and balls of your feet off the floor - try to move around.

The most effective way to move is by sliding rather than stepping. Although there are certainly times when you need to step rather than slide, please remember the following key point....

Key Point
Sliding will always be faster than stepping! The foot that moves first is the one in the direction that you wish to move.

I have listed the following 4 movements in order from fastest to slowest:

  • Slide forward
  • Slide backward
  • Step forward
  • Step backward

So if you're only good at stepping, you're going to be in trouble when you come across someone who knows how to slide dynamically!

I'm not going to teach you how to step, as different styles place emphasis on different aspects of stepping, plus your sensei can show you that. Instead I'd like to break down the 4 basic sliding movements and discuss how to perform each.

Moving forward
To move forward from your forward stance slightly pick up your front foot and drive powerfully and quickly with your rear leg. You will largely depend on the ball of your rear foot and toes to provide the push-off. This "slide" will propel you forward. Only lift your front leg slightly. Don't completely transfer your weight onto your rear leg, otherwise you will be working against the direction in which you want to move.

The key to this is that you are transferring very little weight to your rear leg. With practice you'll know when you do this technique correctly. But an easy way to test your forward slide is by by trying the following exercise.

Stand in your forward stance and pick up your front foot 2 inches without transferring your weight to your rear leg. What happens? You fall forward because you have around 50% of your weight over your front foot which is no longer on the ground and you also have tension in your stance that causes you to move forward.

Now when you want to drive forward (instead of just falling), pick up your foot slightly and push with your rear leg before your front foot hits the floor. Viola! You've just slid 12-24 inches depending on how hard you pushed.

For this technique do not move your back foot first! If you step up with your back foot and then lift your front foot, pushing with your back leg you will get a jerky, awkward movement that will take longer and usually give away your technique to your opponent.

Moving backward
You guessed it, moving backward requires that you do the exact reverse of moving forward. So this time without transferring your weight forward, pick up your back foot a fraction and use your muscles in your front leg to push backward. Again, rely on the ball of your foot and toes--this time of your front foot--to drive you backwards.

Moving sideways
Moving sideways is a little more complicated, but uses the same principle. For this example let's assume you are standing with your left leg forward. If you want to move left, pick up your left foot slightly. Which way do you fall if you don't push? Forward, not left! To prevent yourself from falling forward, push to the left with your rear (right) leg as soon as you pick up your front (left) foot.

Of course moving right is the exact opposite of moving left. First pick up your rear (right) leg a fraction and drive right with your left (front) leg.

Other directions
Moving in other directions requires mixing together two of the above techniques. e.g.. Moving forward and moving left. Depending on how much emphasis you want to place on going forward relative to moving left is up to you. You simply drive more in the direction you want to go with your other leg. It's just deciding which way you want to go and lots of practice that will increase your directional accuracy.

The "Double Shuffle"
Stringing together two single shuffles (or slides) will give you a double shuffle. This is an extremely easy way to move forward or backward very quickly. As soon as you complete your first shuffle forward, immediately repeat the process and you'll have created a double shuffle.

This is exceptionally handy in a sparring situation when you throw a front hand/rear hand combination. Throw the first punch on the first shuffle and the reverse punch on the second shuffle. Be sure to keep your hands up! You'll find that you "cross the gap" between you and your opponent quickly and easily.

For advanced users....
The first time I saw my sensei do this I was quite impressed and was inspired to learn it as soon as possible! This technique again allows you to cover a lot of ground very quickly. You'll cover about the same distance as with a double shuffle but in less time, giving you the valuable element of surprise. This technique uses the same dynamic movement as a double shuffle but with a twist.

Make your first shuffle forward, but before your front foot touches the ground, drive as hard as you can with your rear leg a second time. It's kind of like a double shuffle but your front foot doesn't touch down between the first and second shuffle as it does with the double shuffle.

You can apply this same concept to moving backwards when you have to get out of range very quickly. Lift your rear foot and drive with your front leg backwards, but before your rear foot touches down, drive again with your front leg in the backwards direction.

In closing here are some important points to remember...

  • Don't over rotate or lean to compromise your stance when trying to strike your opponent. Instead always use your feet to get as close as needed to do your technique effectively.
  • Whether it be in the dojo or street always move your feet to the outside line of your opponent's feet so you have the advantage of sweeping or throwing your opponent across your leg.
  • Always move to the outside line of your opponent's feet so that you are out of their firing line and you have the added advantage of striking unprotected targets. You will notice from this position that they will have to punch across themselves to try to hit you.
  • It's always better to move from Point A to Point B to Point C rather than staying at Point B or moving back to Point A. Point C is the least most predictable position after you've attacked.
  • Only lift your feet as much as you have to in order to propel yourself in one direction or another. A good connection with the ground is important for strong effective technique. Lifting your feet too high will transfer more weight onto your other leg making it slower and more difficult to move into and out of position.

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